Elisabeth Latrémolière, chief conservative and director of the royal castle and the museums of Blois, reveals us the codification of the meal of the sovereign which became a show in the Renaissance.
In the court of Valois, what is the role of the meal?
During special occasions, the purpose is not to eat, but to meet. It is a show of the sovereign or the prince in front of his court, essentially under Henri III who makes establish a regulation in which is the unwound of the princely meal. He wanted to restore the royal majesty, damaged by the religious wars.
According to what protocol does the meal take place?
From 1574, Henri III got away from the familiarity which existed between the king and his subjects under François I and Henri II. Gone up on a stage, his table, overhung by a canopy, is separated from the court. Dishes arrive in procession, carried by panetiers, cupbearers, cutting riders and fruiterers, preceded by a maître d'hôtel.
They arrive by waves and are put at the same time on the table. You take what is in front of you, only the king has the right to see all the dishes scroll. Several services follow one another: the starters, with sweet and salty pastries, the soups, consisted of boiled meats, roasts, and the exit of the table, with candies served in a separate room. The wine, cut with some water, is brought by the drink staff.
Besides the big ceremonies, what is the frequency of the meals?
There are two a day: the first one at the end of morning, which we call the dinner, and the other one late in the afternoon, than we call the supper. In the morning, we do not eat before having communed - the first meal is the one of the Christ. In the court, there are meals throughout the day, when we eat candies..
Until the XVIIIth century, the fork is considered as a devilish tool
What do we eat ?
The cooking is a social marker. If you are at the bottom of the social scale, you consume what is near the ground, and if you are at the top, what is in the sky, near God. Thus the aristocrats do not eat salad, nor vegetables nor pork, but poultry and big birds, as well as the game which they hunt.
From Henri II, we see appearing some greenery and vegetables - the artichoke is fashionable. The sugar, the butter, the fruits - François I adores the quince -, jams, turkey, came from America, became gradually elements of the aristocratic kitchen.
What ustensils are on the table ?
There is a plate, and nothing else. Everybody comes with his personal place setting. The one of the king is placed in a nave of the table, an object in the shape of a vessel which will give its name to the dishes (vaisselle in French), and which will be replaced by a padlock (plate containing locking boxes) under Henri II. The dishes of splendor - plates, ewers, big cups, etc. - are on a sideboard.
The fork is almost non-existent at that time. Why?
Known since the XIIIth century, the fork is used in the Renaissance especially to prick candied fruits. It will be used in a common way on table only in the XVIIIth century. Up to there, we consider that it is a devilish instrument, that allows to eat more greedily and to let go oneself in the sin of gluttony. Louis XIV will even go as far as forbidding it to his grandchildren …